OLCC oregon violation license
Recommended compliance level for Oregon licensees.

A couple of months ago, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), for the first time, rejected a settlement offer from a licensee who had violated OLCC rules. At the time, we speculated the OLCC was done with settling and moving towards stricter compliance requirements. It seems, along with more stringent review of applications, the OLCC is doing exactly what we predicted and either rejecting settlement agreements or negotiating tougher settlements that result in licensees voluntarily giving up their licenses.

On September 21, the OLCC approved an administrative law judge’s (ALJ) order to temporarily suspend the marijuana license of the Corvallis Cannabis Club. Typically, a licensee is allowed to continue to operate as normal after receiving a charging document from the OLCC pending the outcome of a settlement or hearing. However, the Corvallis Cannabis Club was under investigation from the federal DEA and the OLCC agreed with the ALJ that a temporary suspension was necessary.

That same day, the OLCC also cancelled High Cascade Farms license after determining the licensee had violated 13 OLCC rules including transporting marijuana to an off-site location and intentionally misrepresenting to the OLCC what happened to the plants.

On October 26, 2018, the Oregon Bud Works agreed to surrender its license to the OLCC after committing 10 OLCC rule violations including changing the licensed premises without approval from the OLCC, failing to keep required surveillance video, and misrepresenting data in METRC.

I have spoken with several people at the OLCC recently about these developments. They all have the same message: now more than ever, it’s time to ensure compliance with the rules. The OLCC believes there has been sufficient time since legalization and the rules have rolled out for licensees to understand and abide by the rules. They are no longer willing to consider settlements that allow licensees to keep their licenses when there are multiple rule violations or especially egregious rule violations.

It unlikely that the OLCC will ever go back to reduced penalties for egregious violations or multiple violations. The agency seems less interested in teaching compliance at this point, than culling the herd. So what can you, an OLCC licensee do?

First and foremost, get familiar with the rules. Undoubtedly, the rules are expansive and overwhelming. They also change frequently. However, if you want to preserve your license, one of the most important assets you can have is a compliance person whose job it is to know the rules and ensure that your company complies at all times. On this point, make sure all of your employees are familiar with the rules, as well. The fact that an employee has a marijuana worker permit is not enough– your business is on the hook for any violation they may commit.

Second, when you have questions about whether a step or process is correct, specialized cannabis business attorneys are a great resource to assist. If you can have person dedicated to ensuring compliance and an attorney to help with interpretation when necessary, hopefully your licensed business will avoid a charging document from the OLCC. Those documents are looking more and more dangerous, and contesting them can be quite a process.

oregon cannabis marijuana sisters sumpter klamath clatskanie ontario
Oregon is getting greener and greener each cycle.

Cannabis not only won big around the country on Election Day 2018, but also on a local level last week within states that had already legalized adult use marijuana, such as Oregon and California. As to Oregon in particular, a handful of cities voted to lift bans on recreational marijuana on November 6. Nearly all of them succeeded.

As we’ve previously explained, Oregon allowed cities and counties to opt out of the legal sale of recreational cannabis. Many cities and counties–particularly rural areas east of the Cascades–chose to go this route. One of the few ways cities and counties can lift the ban is through local initiatives that are presented to the voters. On November 6, some of those previously opted-out Oregon cities were able to life their bans through this process.

Ontario

Back in 2014, when Oregonians as a whole voted on the legalization of recreational cannabis use and sales, Ontario, Oregon was one of the cities that overwhelming voted against legalization. Ontario’s strong stance against the legalization of recreational marijuana allowed the city to ban the sale and production of marijuana. That all changed on November 6, 2018. According to preliminary results, the city lifted the ban with 1904 citizen voting in favor of the sale and taxation of marijuana within the city and 1450 voting against. The ban will officially lift on January 2, 2018. At that time, marijuana business owners can submit applications to the city for conditional use permits to open retail stores in the City. (Full disclosure: We worked on this initiative process.)

Klamath Falls

Similar to Ontario, Klamath Falls banned marijuana after the November 2014 statewide vote. On election night 2018, the Klamath Falls voters passed an initiative allowing recreational sale of marijuana in the city. Klamath Falls ban on recreational sales will be lifted in February 2019.

Klamath Falls faced strong opposition in an anti-pot PAC that raised more than $23,000 against the petition. Not a small measure for a local election. The surrounding county, unfortunately, is still dry.

Clatskanie

Unlike Ontario and Klamath Falls, Clatskanie citizens voted on what is known as a “referendum.” A referendum is an ordinance passed by the City Council that is put to public vote. Here, the city council of Clatskanie proposed a vote on banning marijuana businesses in the City limits. The voters made their intentions clear and struck down the ordinance—meaning the City must allow marijuana businesses within City limits. Another win.

Sumpter

Sumpter may have squeaked out a victory for recreational marijuana businesses on election night. According to the Baker City Herald, 73 persons voted no to banning marijuana businesses whereas 72 voted yes to the ban. Sumpter may be joining Klamath Falls and Ontario in the new year licensing recreational marijuana businesses. This one is incredibly close.

Sisters

Unfortunately, Sisters was unable to generate enough votes to lift the ban. Nearly 57 percent of voters in Sisters voted to keep its current ban on recreational marijuana businesses banned in the city limits. Perhaps city residents were biased after two Sisters residents were arrested on October 11 related to an illegal operation.


All in all, it was a good night for local cities. Many Oregon cities have tried and failed to lift bans in past elections, however, there seems to be a clear movement towards lifting bans in cities to allow the recreational sale of marijuana (and getting access to that growing stream of state-wide tax revenue). We here at Harris Bricken are hopeful the trend will continue, and are excited to be a part of it along the way.

label CBD hemp oregon FDA
Start from scratch with your CBD product labels.

Since the beginning of the year, our firm has received a growing number of inquiries related to the labeling of cannabinoids (“CBD”)-infused foods. This legal issue is particularly confusing given the fact that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) has yet to provide clear guidance for this category of products. This post aims to shed some light on the matter by addressing some of the requirements with which manufacturers and distributors of CBD-infused foods, specifically those derived from industrial hemp, must comply in Oregon.

Unlike the State of Indiana, which recently adopted the most stringent labeling rules for hemp-derived CBD products, Oregon opted to defer to the labeling rules promulgated by the FDA.

The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (“FPL”) directs the FDA to issue regulations requiring that all “consumer commodities” be labeled to disclose net contents, identity of commodity, and the name and place of business of the products’ manufacturer, packer or distributor. Specifically, the FDA rules aim to ensure that foods sold in the United States are safe, wholesome and properly labeled.

The FDA rules provide two ways to label packages and containers:

  1. Place all label statements on the front label panel (also known as the “principal display panel” or “PDP”), which is the portion of the package label that is most likely to be seen by the consumer at the time of purchase (i.e., the front of the package or container); or
  2. Place certain statements on the PDP and others on the information panel, which is the label panel immediately to the right of the PDP, as seen by the consumer facing the product.

Although the FDA gives you the option of placing all label statements on the PDP or split them between the PDP and the information panel, you must ensure that the following label statements appear on the PDP:

  • The statement of identity or name the food as commonly known or used (e., chocolate, pasta); and
  • The net quantity statement or amount of product.

Due to the FDA’s ambiguous position on CBD, manufacturers and distributors should refrain from using the term “CBD” in their statement of identity and should favor instead the term “industrial hemp-infused.” (If you have been on Amazon lately, you will notice that everyone has moved over from the “CBD” to “industrial hemp” terminology.) Note also that the FDA rules impose strict font sizes and methods to accurately determine the weight of your product. Make sure you comply!

In addition to the statement of identity and the net quantity statement, labels will have to provide:

  • The Manufacturer/Distributor Information.
  • Ingredients List: Each ingredient must be listed in descending order of predominance (i.e., heaviest to lightest).
  • Nutrition Labeling, unless you qualify for an exemption, such as the “manufactured by small businesses” exemption which applies to companies that refrain from making nutritional claims and generate $50,000 or less in annual sales.
  • Serving Size.

Lastly, manufacturers and distributors should abstain from making any health claims in fear of being investigated by the FDA which treats products with labels containing health claims as drugs, not food (see here and here more information on this issue). Sometimes, “health claims” can be a fine line, so you should assume that the FDA is going to take a restrictive view of what you can and cannot say.

Although the FDA does not impose a pre-approval process of food labels, manufacturers and distributors of CBD-infused foods should have their labels reviewed by an attorney before they enter the market. Relying on attorneys who are well-versed on the issue of CBD law will ensures compliance with the FDA rules, but also help manufactures and distributors avoid wasting money on reprinting labels and marketing materials.

oregon cannabis salesperson representative

Outside sales people can be a great tool to sell your cannabis product. They may be invaluable to your company. In Oregon, outside sales people may be exempt from minimum wage and overtime requirements if certain requirements are met. Lately, we’ve seen more and more Oregon marijuana companies start working with outside sales people (sometimes called a “sales representative”, “account representative”, etc.) in order to get a leg up in the highly competitive Oregon industry.

As with any sort of employment-adjacent relationship, working with outside salespersons is covered by administrative rules, in this case through the Bureau of Labor and Industry (BOLI). As such, OAR 839-020-0005(4) defines an “Outside Sales Person” as:

an employee who is customarily and regularly engaged away from the employer’s place of business and the salesperson is employed for the purpose of making sales or obtaining orders or contracts for services or for use of facilities for which a consideration will be paid by the client or customer, and the person’s hours of work spent engaged in activities other than sales does not exceed 30 percent of the hours worked in the workweek by non-exempt employees of the employer.

That’s a mouthful: Let’s look at how that might work in practice. A producer could have an employee that travels to processors, wholesalers, or retail stores to induce them to buy the producer’s product. The employee may provide samples to the prospective buyer in accordance with Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) rules, and induce them to enter into a contract to purchase the producer’s flower. If the employee is performing this type of work, outside of the producer’s farm a majority of the time, they may legally be qualified as an outside sales person. If so, minimum wage and overtime laws would not apply to the outside sales person.

For practical purposes, this means you would not be required to pay the outside sales person the current Oregon minimum wage of $10.75 per hour, nor would you be required to pay the sales person time and half for when the person works over 40 hours in a week. However, if you employ an outside sales person, you shouldn’t take this as permission to pay them less than the current minimum wage. The exemption exists for outside sales persons because they are typically paid commission wages. Commission wages is typically a percentage of sales. If an outside sales person is unable to enter into enough contracts to obtain minimum wage based on their commission status, the exemption is there to protect employers from having to supplement their wages to ensure they are receiving minimum wage.

Because we are talking cannabis, things are more complicated, of course, especially where a cannabis employer chooses to pay an employee commission wages instead of hourly wages. Under OLCC rules, any employee that receives commission payments is considered a person with a “financial interest” in the business. Persons with a financial interest in a cannabis business must be disclosed to the OLCC, and in certain circumstances, the OLCC may require the person to undergo a background check.

What the take-away from this information? An outside sales person can be a great employee to have as a cannabis business in Oregon. In certain circumstances, you may not be required to pay the employee minimum wage, and instead, create a commission structure for the employee’s wages. However, before this is done, the employee should be disclosed to the OLCC as a person with a financial interest in the business. If you are ever unsure if an employee qualifies as an outside sales person or needs to be disclosed to the OLCC, it’s always best to consult an attorney before making any changes that could have legal consequences. And it’s very important to have the scope of the relationship in writing, in order to protect your business from BOLI and other claims.

cannabis marijuana RICO litigation
Time for some of these plaintiffs’ lawyers to pack it up.

We’ve been writing about RICO lawsuits on this blog for a while. These lawsuits are typically brought by neighbors of state-licensed cannabis farms, who allege they are bothered by noise and smells associated with cannabis production, and that their property values have been damaged by extension. Generally speaking, these plaintiffs tend to have strong prohibitionist beliefs. Filing RICO lawsuits has also become a cottage industry for certain lawyers, and there are even educational courses for attorneys who want to spend their time on this sort of thing.

As a reminder, RICO is a federal statute that provides for a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization (in addition to criminal penalties). Because RICO complaints sound in federal law and implicate supply chain and vendor defendants, these cases differ from your ordinary nuisance-and-trespass actions, which pursue only the marijuana grower itself, and are also occasionally brought against cannabis farms.

The first RICO lawsuits started popping up a few years ago, and some of them are backed by prohibitionist groups attempting to rattle the industry. One common strategy of RICO plaintiffs, particularly in the early litigations, was to name every vendor doing business with the cannabis farm, including those that never touched the plant itself: e.g., banks, insurance vendors and equipment providers. The RICO plaintiffs would then dismiss these defendants one by one, as each defendant cut ties with the defendant farm— which seems like a racket if there ever was one.

Although pot-neighbor litigation is probably not what Congress had in mind back when it wrote the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, RICO litigants have found some success with their approach, most notably in a 10th Circuit case called Safe Streets v. Hickenlooper, which allowed a RICO lawsuit to proceed in Colorado. More recently, however, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon dismissed a RICO lawsuit brought by a different marijuana farm neighbor for “failure to state a claim.” That case is known as Ainsworth v. Owenby and Judge McShane’s well-reasoned decision tees up a potential circuit split.

Like most leading business law firms who specialize in the cannabis industry, we have had quite a few clients ensnared in RICO lawsuits. These client defendants have included everyone from the property owners themselves, to far-off dispensaries that were unaware the cannabis they sold came from a defendant farm. Fortunately, these lawsuits aren’t really panning out for plaintiffs and we expect to see the RICO trend wind down. Recent case law developments in both Oregon and Colorado show why.

Oregon

Last month, a case known as Rice v. Ambrocio settled relatively quickly, having been filed only five months before. Rice was a waste of time and money, and it’s a good example of why people don’t like lawyers. The 56-page complaint named almost 50 defendants, although not all of them “appeared” in the case and a few were never served. The parties ultimately settled for a $60,000 collective payment to the plaintiffs (a guy who runs an anti-cannabis website, and his partner), which pencils out to a measly $1,200 per defendant on average. Most importantly for defendants, the settlement agreement is non-confidential.

This unimpressive plaintiffs’ outcome should make potential RICO litigants think twice about filing a lawsuit—especially one where it appears that the marijuana activity has all but ended on the defendant property before papers are even filed. Ultimately, if you want to file a complaint in federal court and take on 50 defendants, you are going to burn a LOT of cash just getting the thing filed and served. And, even if you battle your way through months or even years of motion practice, counterclaims, appeals, etc., the likelihood of success may not be great. Which brings us to Colorado.

Colorado

Earlier this week, we had what may have been the first jury verdict in a cannabis RICO case, and it came down in favor of the cannabis grower defendant. The plaintiffs were represented by a Washington, D.C. law firm with ties to Jeff Sessions, and apparently backed by a national anti-cannabis group known as Safe Streets Alliance. For all of that firepower, however, the plaintiffs could not prove their property value had been damaged by the cannabis grow they despised. The jury believed the defendants’ real estate expert, and reached a verdict relatively quickly in favor of the cannabis business. This case had been going for three years or so, and the plaintiffs had previously had the larger portion of their lawsuit—which sought to invalidate Colorado’s marijuana program entirely—thrown out.

The “no damages” finding by this jury is an extraordinary end to a protracted piece of litigation. When my law firm has potential clients come to us who are interested in filing litigation, we always look at a couple of things right away in addition to whether the claims seem viable. One of those is whether the potential plaintiff has been damaged. If the answer is “yes” (and the possibility of collection seems reasonable) we can usually proceed. But if the answer is “no”, bringing a lawsuit is probably a bad idea, regardless of whether the other side has breached a contract, done something “illegal”, etc.

If juries in cannabis RICO cases are going to find that cannabis production does not diminish the value of nearby properties, and that grower activity does not damage neighbor plaintiffs, these wasteful lawsuits may finally disappear altogether.

For more on RICO marijuana litigation, check out the following posts in our series:

This series of posts has been exploring Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) proposed rules implementing Oregon Equal Pay Act and how it will affect cannabis businesses. Last week, I discussed what “work of a comparable character” means. The week before that, I explored what compensation is. This week, I’ll dive into the systems employers can implement to pay employees doing work of a comparable character different compensation.

The Oregon Equal Pay Act prohibits employers from paying employees performing work of a comparable character different compensation unless the entire compensation differential is based on a bona fide factor related to the position in question. The statute and rules only allow employers to consider certain “bona fide factors.” Employers may pay employees differential wages for work of a comparable character if it’s based on: 1) a seniority system; a merit system; a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; 3) workplace location; 4) travel requirements; 5) education; 6) training; and 7) experience. Let’s unpack these a little bit.oregon marijuana equal pay

A seniority system is defined as a system that recognizes and compensates employees based on length of service with the employer. A seniority system should be applied consistently. Meaning, If Budtender A is hired at $14 per hour and is raised to $16 per hour after two years of employment, Budtender B should receive the same raise after two years of employment.

A merit system provides for variations in pay based upon employee performance as measured through job-related criteria. BOLI has provided an example of “a written performance evaluation plan or policy that measures employee performance using a set numerical or other established rating scale.” An employer should use such performance evaluation to determine employee pay rates.

A system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production include piece rate work. So for example, you could pay joint-rollers a certain amount for each joint rolled. An employee who rolls more joint would be paid more.

Work place location can be a consideration for differential wages. When determining if workplace location should factor into employee’s wages, the employer should consider: cost of living; desirability of worksite location; access to worksite location; minimum wage zone; or wage and hour zones.

Employers can also consider necessary and regular travel. This does not include consideration of normal travel between home and work.

When considering education, training, and experience, employers should consider substantive knowledge acquired through coursework, experience in the job field or trainings attended.

The rules require employers show a “devised coherent, consistent, verifiable and reasonable method.” This means more than an ad hoc decision to pay one budtender more than another. Instead, employers should have written policies describing how it pays its employees. This will require work—but in the long run could save you from BOLI penalties or a civil lawsuit from an employee (which is happening more and more in the industry as of late).

If you need assistance drafting compensation plans consult an attorney or a certified human resources specialist.

equal pay oregon marijuana employmentIn 2017 Oregon passed sweeping Equal Pay Legislation. Towards the end of August, Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) issued draft rules implementing the Oregon Equal Pay Act. This series of post is exploring those new rules and how they will affect cannabis businesses. In my last post, I unpacked the definition of “compensation” under the Equal Pay Act and the proposed rules. This week I’ll discuss “work of a comparable character.”

The Oregon Equal Pay Act prohibits employers from paying wages or other compensation to “any employee at a rate greater than that at which the employer pays wages or other compensation to employees of a protected class for work of a comparable character.” To put it simply, cannabis businesses need to pay employees doing the same work the same pay. But what is “work of a comparable character?”

Work of a comparable character is not determined simply by job title alone. Two cannabis workers who have the same job title but perform different tasks are not necessarily performing “work of a comparable character.” Similarly, two cannabis workers that perform essentially the same tasks but have different job titles may be performing work of a comparable character.

According to the BOLI draft rules, to determine if different jobs constitute “work of a comparable character” the employer must consider whether the jobs require “substantially similar knowledge, skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions.” No one factor is determinative. Meaning, an employer should balance the factors against each other to determine if employees are performing the same work and therefore should be receive equal pay. The proposed BOLI rules further define each factor.

  • Knowledge. When considering whether two jobs require similar “knowledge,” the employer should consider whether the jobs require similar education, experience, or training.
  • Skill. Things to consider to determine if two jobs require the same “skill” include the ability, agility, coordination, efficiency or experience required to perform the job.
  • Effort. Considerations to determine the “effort” of a job include the “amount of physical or mental exertion needed; amount of sustained activity; or complexity of job tasks performed.”
  • Responsibility. To determine if responsibility of two positions are “similar,” an employer should consider the “accountability, decision-making discretion, or impact of an employee’s exercise of their job functions on the employer’s business; amount, level, or degree of significance of job tasks; autonomy or extent to which the employee works without supervision; extent to which the employee exercises supervisory functions; or extent to which an employee’s work or actions expose an employer to risk or liability.
  • Working conditions. Finally, to determine if employees are working in similar “working conditions” an employer should consider the “work environment; hours; time of day worked; physical surroundings; and potential hazards.”

Determining how to pay your employees is not an easy task. The Equal Pay Act, while it has good intentions, may make that task even more difficult. Regardless, now is the time to analyze how you are paying your cannabis employees. Now is the time to look at the jobs that are being performed, identify work of a comparable character, and adjust wages accordingly. If you’re unsure whether two workers should be receiving equal pay, you should contact an employment attorney.

The Equal Pay Act pay provisions are effective on January 1, 2019. Again, now is the time to ensure compliance before BOLI starts handing out penalties next year.

Today let’s talk about Matthew Price, the Oregon marijuana businessman headed to jail for tax crimes. This story got a lot of coverage when it broke last month, partly because it was the first known tax-related prosecution for a licensed pot business owner, and partly because Price was fairly well known in Oregon. He once sat on an Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) rules advisory committee for cannabis retail, and he owned three dispensaries. Seems like he was off to a pretty good start.

Well, not any longer. In addition to the seven-month lockup, Price was ordered to pay the I.R.S. $262,776 in restitution on the nearly $1 million in taxable income he raked in from 2011 to 2014. He will probably never be allowed to participate in the OLCC program again, given the agency’s recent tightening of the screws, and its authority to bar anyone with a federal conviction “substantially related to the fitness and ability of the applicant” to obtain a license.

cannabis marijuana tax IRS

Generally speaking, marijuana businesses are liable for lots of tax under IRC 280E. As cannabis business lawyers, we work with CPAs and others to attempt to mitigate our clients’ tax liability, but at the end of the day, that liability is always there. Tax obligations do not end at the federal level, of course: Most states have income tax programs, and all states with legal cannabis programs seem to collect additional taxes on the sale of marijuana. In Oregon, for example, that sales tax must be escrowed by OLCC retailers and paid to the state Department of Revenue. As to Matthew Price, the news reporting was silent on whether he was also shirking those payments.

Having advised state-legal cannabis businesses since 2010, we have seen a lot of monkey business when it comes to tax. We have seen bad lawyers advise clients not to pay taxes, on the theory that tax programs violate business owners’ rights against self-incrimination. We have seen businesses attempt to claim “non-profit” status and avoid taxes in that manner, despite the impossibility of receiving an I.R.S. exemption. And we’ve seen lots of “management company” schemes, most of which are nonsense. At the end of the day, a baseline level of tax is unavoidable.

Interestingly and appropriately, the judge in this case didn’t seem to treat Price differently because his income derived from cannabis sales. It was reported that federal prosecutors petitioned the judge to go hard on Price, in order to send a message to the marijuana industry. The judge wasn’t having that:

The fact that the product involved here is marijuana is utterly meaningless to me in passing a sentence,” the judge said. “It’s a tax case to me.”

That didn’t stop the Justice Department from bragging a bit, but it’s encouraging to see cannabis entrepreneurs being treated like everyone else — in theory, anyway — and for better or worse. On that point, we have often said on this blog that just because someone is violating one federal law by trading in cannabis, that doesn’t make it a good idea to violate all the others. And we always advise entrepreneurs to run their cannabis business like real businesses. That includes paying taxes.

oregon marijuana equal pay

Back in 2017, the Oregon legislature passed equal pay legislation prohibiting employers from asking applicants about compensation history. The law is known as the Equal Pay Act. This law, like other employment laws, applies to cannabis businesses. The equal pay provision of the law goes into effect on January 1, 2019. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) was tasked with drafting rules implementing the Equal Pay Act and recently released draft rules. This series of posts will unpack the new rules and explain the impacts on your cannabis business.

The Equal Pay Act prohibits employers from paying disparate compensation for work of a comparable character. The Equal Pay Act defines compensation as “wages, salary, bonuses, benefits, fringe benefits and equity-based compensation.” What this means is each of these taken in total is an employee’s compensation. The proposed BOLI rules provide clarification to each of the words that make up “compensation.”

BOLI defines benefits as:

“the rate of contribution that an employee makes irrevocably to a trustee or to a third person under a plan, fund or program; or the rate of costs to the employer in providing benefits to an employee beyond what is required by federal, state or local law pursuant to an enforceable commitment to carry out a financially responsible plan or program which is committed to the employee affected including but not limited to the following: medical or hospital care; pensions on retirement or death; compensation for injuries or illness resulting from occupational activity; insurance to provide any of [the above]; unemployment benefits; life insurance; disability insurance; sick leave pay; accident insurance; vacation or holiday pay; or defraying costs of other bona fide fringe benefits.”

But what does this long-winded definition actually mean? As an example, if you have two extraction technicians that perform substantially the same work, you need to provide them the same benefits, otherwise you will be in violation of the equal pay laws. If you provide one health insurance, you need to provide the other the same level of health insurance. Etc.

Bonus, similarly has been given a long definition. Bonus is defined as:

“an amount that is paid or something of monetary or quantifiable value that is given to an employee by an employer in addition to the employee’s regular rate of pay, typically as a means of encouragement or in recognition of superior performance. Bonuses include but are not limited to the following: signing or job acceptance bonuses; attendance bonuses; loyalty bonuses; performance bonuses; and productivity bonuses.”

Again, if you provide a performance bonus to one extraction technician, you must provide a bonus on the same terms to any other extraction technician. A future post will discuss in detail exactly what the “same terms” means.

Finally, “salary” is defined as a predetermined amount constituting all or part of the employee’s compensation paid for each pay period of one week or longer. And “wages” means all compensation for performance of service by an employee for an employer. Your extraction technicians need to be receiving the same salary or wages otherwise, you’ll be in violation of the rules.

All of the above definitions need to be considered in total when setting compensation for your employees. Remember–work of a comparable character must be paid the same. And yes, a future post will explore what “comparable character” means.

The Equal Pay portion of the Equal Pay Act officially goes into effect on January 1, 2019. Now is the time to get familiar with the law and its implementing rules, and to ensure you are paying your cannabis employees in accordance with the requirements. If you are unsure, consult an attorney to review your pay practices. Non-compliance will come with hefty fines.

City cannabis licensing in action.

Recently, the City of Portland announced that it would lower cannabis business licensing fees. Most notably, retail license fees have been reduced from $4,975 to $3,500, in line with other license types. That is still too steep (especially considering the state licensing fees), and although the City has cleaned up its process over the past few years, it’s still redundant, unnecessary and something of a cluster. Like all cities, Portland should stop licensing cannabis businesses.

It’s been over three years since Portland adopted its poorly written Code Chapter 14B.130, which sets forth license procedures and requirements for marijuana businesses. The oppressive fee schedule adopted at that time placed an outsized burden on retailers to cover the cost of administering the Portland Marijuana Policy Program. In the early days, the program was staffed by functionaries at the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) who shall go unnamed and mostly seemed to follow each other in circles, sometimes passing applicants back and forth with the Bureau of Development Services (BDS). Most of those folks have moved on.

ONI has since been rebranded as the Office of Community & Civic Life (people still call it ONI) and slotted under a different Commissioner. All of this followed from campaign promises made by Portland’s new mayor, who acknowledged that the City’s relationship with marijuana was a mess. For further reading on how bad it got — from credible estimates that local red tape was costing the industry $22 million per month, to disapproving letters penned by Congressional reps — go here, here, here, here, here, here and here. The City’s actions also caused one of my all-time favorite Oregon cannabis rumors: A class action suit would be filed “any day now” by private industry against the City. It’s been a trip.

Three years later, the Marijuana Policy Program is better run, and the lawyers and paralegals in my office get along with everyone there and push licenses through on the regular. But the question remains: What exactly is the point of having a local regulatory program for cannabis businesses? Everything is redundant to what the state is doing, and when it’s not, it’s usually worse. So why do cities think this is a good idea?

Those are complex and provocative discussions, but the motivation by cities may be some combination of the following: 1) licensing cannabis generates revenues; 2) licensing cannabis generates jobs; 3) licensing cannabis is novel; 4) licensing cannabis may appease people who dislike pot businesses; 5) cities may already be licensing alcohol (although to a lesser extent, invariably); 6) other cities are licensing cannabis; and 7) it’s hard for regulators not to regulate things. All in all, it’s a dismal mix.

Unfortunately, there is not much that industry can do when a city decides it wants to license cannabis. In states where legal marijuana markets exist, cities (and counties) have significant leeway in dealing with cannabis businesses. Some cities opt out entirely; others choose to license. Still others take a middle path, charging a variety of fees and taxes to hapless pot businesses but stopping short of licensure. Although fees and taxes are burdensome, those cities tend to avoid the logjams that prevent many businesses from even getting off the ground.

In all, the Portland experience is not unique. Hilary Bricken has been writing on this blog for some time about City of Los Angeles’ convoluted three-phase licensing protocol, for example, and the unintended consequences that come with it. Others have taken a broader survey, chronicling “extortionate” application, permit and license fees from municipalities nationwide. In comparison to some locales, cities like Portland and Los Angeles don’t seem so bad.

It’s also important to remember that cities can do a lot of good for cannabis, if they skip the licensing step and focus on other things. In August, Portland directed $350,000 in funds toward record-clearing and workforce efforts for communities that prohibition has impacted disproportionately. It also dropped another $150,000 to support equitable cannabis initiatives. Both announcements were met with general approval.

Most recently, Portland rolled out a “Social Equity Program”, which modestly reduces licensing fees to qualifying businesses. Before you get too impressed, though, consider: The better move would be dropping the licensing structure altogether.